Several years ago, when Ariel was healthy and home for Chanukah, he asked me to make latkes. We pulled a bunch of cookbooks off the shelves and looked through them. In truth, all the recipes were pretty much the same, but Ariel was details oriented and he studied the recipes with the same intensity that he reserved for Talmud. Finally, we settled on one recipe. It called for hand-grating the potatos. I had no idea what I was in for. I am typically male and unrelentingly concrete when it comes to cooking and following recipes. I follow every instruction with the rigidity of a school child. Karen, on the other hand, has never met a recipe that she could not improve upon with some creative improvisation. I’m always amazed when she actually substitutes one ingredient for another. Who knew this was permitted?
Two hours later, the potatoes were shredded and so were my knuckles. We fried up the latkes and soon they were whispering in the oil and turning a lovely golden brown.
I made about thirty latkes and Ariel set the table. After the latkes drained, we sat down, said the b’racha and dug in.
“These are delicious, Daddy,” he said. I smiled proudly.
We did not carry on much of a conversation, I recall. But it was a companionable silence and I remember being supremely happy.
Yesterday, the fifth day of Chanukah, I told Karen that I wanted to make latkes.
“Okay,” she warned, “but I don’t feel like cooking.”
“No problem, I’ll do it.”
Karen did help me gather the ingredients, I never know where to find anything, then she went upstairs to her office to do some work.
I started grating the potatoes, but within a few minutes, my back was aching unbearably. Our garage door weighs about seven thousand tons and I pulled a back muscle opening it this morning. After a few minutes of grating, it felt like a stream of pulsing fire was traveling up and down my spine.
Down she came.
“I need that machine you have, it chops food automatically.”
“The food processor?”
Karen insisted on setting it up for me or else she feared I would cut my hands to pieces on the razor sharp medieval looking blades. And so, Karen ended up grating the potatos.
“Thanks, I know you didn’t want to do this.”
“This is the easy part.”
Back upstairs went Karen.
I added the egg and the matzo meal, then heated up the oil. Soon, I formed the latkes between my fingers into neat little patties and slipped them into the boiling oil. Ouch! That smarts when the oil hops from the pan and hits your wrists.
I stood there, spatula in hand, feeling confident and oh-so-capable.
But something was wrong. The latkes were falling apart and not turning brown.
Down she came.
After a few seconds observing, Karen diagnosed the problem.
“Try another pan. I don’t think this one is distributing the heat properly.”
As usual, Karen was right, and in no time at all I had a pile of golden latkes draining on paper towels–a nightmare for any cardiologist.
Sitting down at the same table where Ariel and I ate so many years ago, I bit into the latkes and the memory of our Chanukah meal came flooding back. The latkes were my madeleine; an exquisite pleasure invaded me, isolated me, and for a brief moment, I was sitting across from my son, my son Ariel, enjoying Chanukah, reveling in a most comfortable silence.